As new contenders enter the crowded retail playing field, chains are hard-pressed to find a way to differentiate themselves. While many retailers strive to improve the customer experience to stand out in the marketplace and drive customer loyalty, successful chains know they need a knowledgeable, quality sales force at the core of this strategy.
John Anderson, director of retail industry marketing for Chelmsford, Mass.-based Kronos, chatted with Chain Store Age’s senior editor Deena M. Amato-McCoy, about how Web-based workforce-management solutions can help retailers improve employee productivity, cut labor costs and, most importantly, improve the shopping experience.
Chain Store Age: What trends are impacting workforce management?
John Anderson: Retailers feel pressure from a diverse set of competitors. This includes new online competitors as well as retailers that continue to add new merchandise categories.
Both entities are forcing businesses to renew their focus on driving the quality and consistency of the customer experience. They consider this a competitive differentiator.
The challenge is that, to a great extent, the customer’s experience depends on the quality and productivity of the retail work force. Yet, there are issues surrounding the work force.
There is an urgency across the retail industry to improve any process that impacts labor allocation and utilization. Retailers also want to increase their visibility and control of labor costs, productivity, compliance and employee turnover.
CSA: What are the newest IT-based workforce-management methods?
Anderson: Workforce management was once viewed as a few loosely cobbled point solutions. Today, retailers are demanding a complete workforce-management platform from a single vendor that enables them to deploy rapidly, without the complexities of mixing and matching multiple technologies from different vendors.
Integrated, end-to-end solutions provide full capabilities across the employee life cycle, including sales and labor budgeting, employee selection and hiring, forecasting and optimized scheduling, task management, time and attendance, absence-and-leave management, and labor analytics.
CSA: We have been hearing about the movement to centralized configuration for a while.
Anderson: Unfortunately, the retail workforce-management process still remains largely de-centralized across retail stores. However, the ideal deployment of workforce management is a centralized one. This means all sales and labor data resides in a single database that facilitates secure on-demand access for all users—store-level and executives—wherever they may be.
CSA: What other processes improve the capabilities of workforce-management solutions?
Anderson: Biometrics enables secure employee-data collection that eliminates payroll error caused by fraudulent “buddy punching.”
Meanwhile, advanced optimization techniques enable better decision-making for complex distributed tasks such as employee hiring and store scheduling. These processes have long been manual, time-intensive and error-prone.
Now they can be delivered as part of a single end-to-end workforce-management platform that not only automates and standardizes hiring and scheduling processes, but delivers consistent, higher-quality employees and staff schedules that are better aligned to customer demand and traffic patterns.
CSA: How has systems integration played a role in workforce management?
Anderson: Systems integration is a critical component to successful deployment. The most important connections are feeds to and from point-of-sale, human resources and payroll systems.
Leading retailers are also beginning to source customer-demand data from other sources, including traffic counters and supermarket-scale systems. Data from these systems enable a retailer to further enhance forecast accuracy and schedule quality.
CSA: What work still needs to be done here?
Anderson: There have been many advances in workforce management over the last few years, including the introduction of task-management solutions that aim to streamline communication of directives from corporate, facilitate their assignment at store level and monitor overall compliance.
While they are not yet widely adopted, these applications are promising. However, they won’t approach their full potential until they are delivered with seamless integration to labor budgeting, forecasting and scheduling components. The result will be a single system of record for sales and labor productivity and store execution.